Dissonant Notes

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The History and Beliefs of American Populist Libertarianism (Part 3)

(For Part 1, go here.)

(For Part 2, go here.)

As the 2016 presidential election creeps closer, what differentiates the 21st century American libertarian movement from the John Birch Society inspired paranoia of the late fifties? In terms of ideas, nothing; the main change is the normalisation of libertarian rhetoric. At this point websites with comment sections show not only the popularity and appeal of the libertarian outlook, but also the absolutely limited worldview its adherents espouse. While libertarianism, in general, promotes intellectual curiosity and the free flow of ideas, American libertarianism is, in contrast, rigid and almost completely bereft of debate. Instead, a uniformity of thought and language has emerged which bypasses logic when faced with opposition. What then are the hallmarks of American libertarianism?

Libertarian Language: American libertarian language is peppered with words and phrases which imply that anybody who disagrees has been brainwashed. “Drinking the kool-aid”, “sheeple”, and “libtard” are remarkably popular. Using the acronym MSM when referring to the dreaded mainstream media is essential for showing libertarian credentials. When faced with the MSM reporting on a mass shooting, libertarians will dismiss it as a “false flag” operation designed by the government to take people’s guns away. When the issue of race emerges, libertarians will accuse others of being “race-baiters”, and the names Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson will almost certainly be invoked. The enemy is always “big government” and the “elites”. Anything which is not based on unregulated free-market principles is “socialism”. Obama is “Obummer” or “Odumber”. Then there are the libertarian men’s rights activists who, inspired by The Matrix, throw around the labels “redpill” (enlightened male) and “bluepill” (dupe who doesn’t understand women or the feminist agenda) as if those terms represent some undisputed truth. Essentially, anybody who is not a libertarian is a kool-aid drinking sheeple who loves Obummer and has been brainwashed by the race-baiters and the MSM, and who is no doubt a bluepill male.

Libertarian Beliefs: American populist libertarianism is riddled with contradictions. It has a strong Christian puritan element that supports family values, yet it worships at the altar of Ayn Rand, a Russian atheist who promoted selfish self-interest, laissez-faire capitalism, and who used her fame to enhance her love life. None of these contradictions are explored. Her atheism, her anti-Christian belief in egotistical greed, and her non-monogamous sexual behaviour is of no concern to Christian libertarians. Her belief in unregulated capitalism is enough to make her a patron saint. The Christian element has also bred a disturbing undercurrent that venerates purity, nobility, nationalism, and militarism. Gun-wielding patriots who go by the name of Oath Keepers are seen with frightening regularity on the streets of America, promising to uphold the sacred words of the Constitution. The Promise Keepers is a Christian organisation for young men which, amongst other things, promotes the need for sexual purity. Many Christian fathers and daughters attend purity balls where the daughters publicly pledge their virginity to their fathers.

There is a similarity in spirit between the Oath Keepers of America and the post-WW I Freikorps of the German Weimar Republic. Freikorps were paramilitary groups that consisted primarily of ex-soldiers who sought structure in civilian life by maintaining the military values of honour and nationalism, and who defended Germany against communist uprisings, from both within and without her borders. Their devotion to German romantic nationalistic principles and their sense of bitterness and betrayal after Germany’s WW I defeat made them easy prey for Nazi Party recruiters. The Nazi Party built up a following by appealing to those who felt that Germany had been defeated by internal enemies (as opposed to superior military power), the November Criminals, whose actions led to the weakening of the German state and the German spirit. From this came the stab-in-the-back myth, which processed Germany’s WW I defeat as being the result of weak leadership, corrupted German values, and infiltration from Jews and communists. Germany was seen as a great and noble nation which had been humiliated and defiled by liberal Jewish values. The Nazis liked to portray themselves as rebellious heroes who proudly took a stand against the tyrannical Jewish/socialist/liberal elite who controlled the country. To his followers, Hitler was the true voice of the German people, and his rise was depicted as the reemergence of the mighty German spirit, forever throwing off the shackles of oppression.

When it comes to race, anti-Semitism is a vital aspect of American libertarianism. While there are many within the libertarian/Tea Party movement who align themselves with the extremist elements of the state of Israel at all times (these tend to be the older, evangelical types who indulge in End Times fantasies as often as possible), talk of Jewish bankers manipulating the masses is still a regular occurrence in libertarian circles. Anti-Semitism appeals to the conspiracy theory mindset, as it did in the Weimar Republic, fueling the idea of shadowy elites controlling and manipulating the lives of good, honest, hardworking people. Those who count themselves as Latino, and who are not white, are also subject to much anger and resentment in libertarian circles. Brown-skinned Latinos are more often than not viewed with suspicion in terms of their legal status as American residents/citizens. The fact that a presidential candidate can talk of building a wall between America and Mexico and accuse Mexican immigrants of being rapists and murderers but still see a surge in popularity as a result, tells us a lot about the levels of intolerance that exist in libertarian circles. Libertarian attitudes to Muslims are also extremely intolerant. Despite claiming to uphold religious liberty, libertarians tend to view Muslims, and indeed all people of Middle Eastern descent, as being potential terrorists. Libertarian groups promote hate speech against Muslims in the name of freedom and are happy to attack any sacred images that aren’t Christian. The Republican/libertarian axis promotes the idea of a War on Christmas and a War on Christians whenever Christian imagery is removed from a public space, yet sees intolerance toward Muslims as being an essential element of liberty.

With black Americans, American libertarianism is pathologically suspicious and antagonistic. Despite libertarianism being founded on distrust of authority and the championing of individual rights, when it comes to police brutality and the American criminal justice system, the vast majority of libertarian/Tea Party supporters defend the right of the state to use deadly force and draconian punishment for even the slightest infringements. The fact that the vast majority of those who suffer and die under such a system are black Americans gives a clear indication of the people whose freedoms the libertarian party wishes to defend. From its beginnings in John Birch-esque paranoia, modern American libertarianism has opposed the empowerment of black Americans. The John Birch Society stood in opposition to black Civil Rights on the spurious logic that the entire movement was controlled by communists who wished to undermine American society. As the Democratic Party emerged as the most sympathetic to the problems of black America (which is not to say that they were likely to do anything about it), most black voters chose to support the Democrats. Republicans, in turn, accused Democrats of using race to manipulate black voters, with race issues constantly dismissed by the right-wing as manipulation on the part of liberal elites. Even though black Americans were and are hyper-aware of their race due to centuries of ingrained white supremacy, to this day right-wing thinkers still promote the idea that race is a myth peddled by Democrats/communists/liberals in order to keep black Americans on the welfare plantation. The deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, Victor White, Jonathan Sanders, Samuel DuBose, Jonathan Ferrell, etc, could have been avoided had they personally not thought of themselves as black. The fact that the people doing the killing thought of the victims as black is apparently of no consequence. Speeches by Republican politicians, made in reaction to each death, repeatedly blamed the victim and gave unqualified support to law enforcement officials. Many avowed libertarians feel that black people merely need to trust the justice system implicitly and do as they are told at all times when in the presence of an armed government agent. To most white Americans, even on the left, race is never the most important issue (the bumper sticker stating “No War But Class War” neatly encapsulates this very idea). Race is always a tool to divide rather than something which impacts the lives of millions of Americans on a daily basis. It is a concept that “we” must get over, “we” being all Americans, not just the white Americans who have consistently imposed the notion of race on black Americans.

The recent controversy over the Confederate Flag also shows the white supremacist roots of modern American libertarianism. Libertarians will talk incessantly about their patriotism yet in the same breath they defend the flag of an enemy state which sought to destroy the United States of America. Not only do they defend it, but they claim it to be a symbol of virtue, nobility, and Southern pride. Only in a staunchly white supremacist country could the flag of an enemy state become a cherished symbol of goodness, given that the enemy state in question fought for the right to retain the institution of slavery and to enforce the white supremacist philosophy that black people are inferior as living creatures to white people. Confederacy Vice President Alexander Stephens said in his famous Cornerstone Speech:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the ‘storm came and the wind blew.’

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”


Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them.

Despite the fact that many other quotes and speeches of a similar nature can be produced which show, quite unequivocally, what the Confederacy believed in and fought for and also that, as a result of the Civil War 4 million human beings were released from slavery, there is still debate in America as to the origins of the Civil War and whether the North had a legitimate cause. While debates about the Civil War are still a regular occurrence, no debate of a similar nature exists over America’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, at least not in libertarian or right-wing circles. Those who sympathise with the South tend to focus on the North’s motivation for war and, in doing so, they deliberately downplay the race-based rationale which fueled the Confederacy and what the end result would have been had the South won. Many of the North’s motives may have indeed been flawed but that does not legitimise the unparalleled evil of the South’s agenda. Any flag or symbol which emerged from this agenda would, under normal circumstances, be seen as a symbol of hatred, domination, and tyranny. Not in America. The Confederate Flag, as it is now called, was originally part of the second national flag of the Confederacy. The thirteen stars within the cross represented the thirteen states of the Confederacy while the rest of the flag was white to represent the superiority of the white race. We are now told by many people that the Confederate Flag has nothing to do with slavery, white supremacy, or tyranny, that racists who have adopted it as their symbol have twisted its original meaning, and that the flag represents heritage not hate. These same people refuse to acknowledge that the very heritage that is celebrated by the Confederate Flag is one of slavery, brutality, black codes, lynching, white supremacy, Jim Crow, segregation, and the KKK. Denying the racism of the Confederate Flag goes hand in hand with a general denial about the prevalence of racism in the history of America.

After the Civil War ended, the Lost Cause philosophy emerged in the South to legitimise the aims of the Confederacy. It painted the North as a tyrant, wreaking havoc in the gentlemanly land of the South where master and slave coexisted in harmony. This ahistorical piece of fiction became a living, breathing way of life for many in the South. Many white Southerners adopted the white supremacist symbols of the Confederacy as a way to show disdain and contempt for black people living in the South, while at the same time mythologising the pre-Civil War South as a peaceful and chaste world, viciously destroyed by the marauding Yankee. The South managed to keep suppressing the black population in cruel and despotic ways and when the Civil Rights movement began to gain traction in the 1950s, the Confederate Flag reappeared all over the South as a mark of defiance against the American government’s attempts to desegregate the Southern population. When white supremacist Dylann Roof shot dead nine black Americans in June of 2015 a fierce debate erupted about the nature of the Confederate Flag. A mere 150 years after the end of the Civil War, and prompted by Roof’s racially-motivated killing spree, some Americans finally thought it was time to stop the flying of the Confederate Flag on government property. Despite the occasional voice of dissent, the libertarian/Tea Party movement instead chose to adopt the Confederate Flag as another cause, framing its removal as an example of political correctness gone mad and a sign that Obama was out to eradicate Southern culture. In choosing to defend a symbol of slavery, libertarians once again have shown how little they care for the dignity of Americans who aren’t white, and by continuing to whitewash the brutality of slavery and its legacy, they actually side with a cause committed to the negation of universal liberty.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The History and Beliefs of American Populist Libertarianism (Part 2)

(For Part 1, go here.)

With 9/11 came the Truther movement, a loose collective of activists who generally believed that the American government was responsible for 9/11. Initially, the Truther movement appealed more to left-wing conspiracy theorists but, as time went on, the line between left and right began to blur, and the opinions of stoned crust-punks and gun-toting libertarians became indistinguishable. The American government became the ultimate symbol of evil, with octopus-like tentacles manipulating and controlling the entire free world. In the Truther world, a person is either a free-thinking individual or a hopelessly deluded drone who believes everything the government tells them. This false dichotomy prompted the belief that either the American government was completely honest about the events of 9/11, or it carried out 9/11: Governments are known to lie, therefore the government version of events is a lie, therefore the government was behind 9/11.

The idea that the government may have been dishonest yet still did not plan the 9/11 attack hardly existed. If the 9/11 attack allowed the government of George W. Bush to move forward with an agenda that involved invading Afghanistan and Iraq, then it goes without saying that Bush and his cronies must have coordinated the entire attack. It seems plausible that the events of 9/11 prompted so much fear in the American populace that conspiracy theories provided a vital and indestructible way of processing both the fear and the multitude of voices which claimed to know exactly what happened and how. By latching on to a particular opinion and denouncing all those who disagree as government patsies, conspiracy theories provided much needed assurance in a suddenly terrifying world. The bigger problem with conspiracy theories is not so much the non-beliefs that they prompt (“I don’t believe a word the government says”) but rather the beliefs that spring up in place of previously held opinions. Sooner or later, conspiracy theorists must come up with explanations for what really happened, and the internet allowed these theories not only to disseminate, but also to solidify into accepted truths. Worse, conspiracy theorists generally do not attempt to find a one-off localised solution to events, but instead they let their imaginations run riot until they have found explanations for every major event that has ever occurred since the beginning of recorded history. In this worldview, there is only good or evil, light or dark, and conspiracy theorists believe themselves to be warriors of truth and freedom. Everything is always at stake all the time, and the world is perpetually on the verge of anarchy and armageddon where the forces of darkness run wild. Ironically, given that most libertarians promote the idea that governments are wasteful and incompetent, conspiracy theorists of a libertarian bent attribute devastatingly precise efficiency and powers of execution to the US government. The amount of work and organisation that needed to happen to ensure that the 9/11 attack was successful makes the American government look like the most well-oiled machine that has ever existed. Yet this same machine was unable to secure a military victory in Iraq and cannot be trusted to oversee healthcare for Americans. The government manages to be a terrifying, omnipresent evil one minute, and a bumbling, wasteful clown the next.

No other cultural artifact anticipated, accelerated, and benefitted from the conspiracy theory boom than The Matrix. In this movie, there are only two types of people: the free, and the enslaved. Given that the enslaved are unaware of their bondage, it means they could at any point be functioning enemy agents so as a result, the unfree must be treated as dangerous and expendable. The critical scene in the movie is the red pill/blue pill dichotomy. To take the red pill is to hurtle headlong into the truth. To take the blue pill is to wilfully accept illusion and slavery. This metaphor has been fully embraced by conspiracy theorists, eager to promote themselves as truth seekers who have swallowed the red pill. Anybody who disagrees has clearly taken the blue pill and as such are unable to accept the harsh truth of their enslavement. (The red pill/blue pill trope has also become popular with men’s rights activists, who dismiss men who disagree with their opinion as blue pill males who have bought the lie of feminism). Though Christopher Hitchens famously described conspiracy theories as “the exhaust fumes of democracy”, the unfortunate toxins that come about from the free flow of information, it appears that they are now functioning more like compost heaps. From the debris of popular culture, living philosophies have grown that are nourished by fear and confusion.

If 9/11 and the internet heralded a new beginning for conspiracy theorists, the presidency of Barack Obama was like a nuclear explosion. For reasons that nobody has yet been able to explain (if we discount the actual answer which is racism), the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House turned the libertarian conspiracy theory mindset into a mainstream political movement. The vague, inchoate rumblings and ramblings that emerged post-9/11 suddenly caught on like wildfire and, in doing so, it turned the conspiracy theory world into a mostly right-wing affair. The post-hippie, drug-addled mindset that emerged in the 1970s, and which was both illustrated and bolstered by influential conspiracy theory novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy (which induced readers to indulge in a half-serious embrace of conspiracy as a means to both promote paranoia and to gleefully muddy the waters), was resurrected as a humourless right-wing guide to living under the tyranny of Obama. Certain groups, most notably the Tea Party, began to gain massive popular support from a particular demographic, the disenchanted middle-class white Americans who had suffered as a result of the global economic crash which occurred just as George W. Bush was leaving office. The massive deregulation of the American financial sector, which had being going on since Nixon but had really picked up steam under Reagan, finally did what many economists were predicting it would do: it brought about the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. With bankers and financiers running amok with nobody to impose any order, the whole thing finally unravelled in 2007 as toxic loans and high risk investments (amongst other things) caused the entire global economy to shake and shudder. Millions lost their jobs, millions of dollars (and pounds, and euros, etc) were lost in investments and savings, with the end result being that the US government, and most European governments, had to step in and essentially prop up the global economy, then pass on the tab to taxpayers. The world economy was brought to the brink of disaster because of deregulated financial malfeasance and only survived because of taxes. How did Tea Party activists and libertarians respond to this economic disaster which occurred during the presidency of George W. Bush? They demanded less financial regulations, insisted that Americans should pay less taxes, and placed the blame for the disaster on Barack Obama.

The anger which has erupted during the presidency of Obama is unrivalled in its insistence that Barack Obama is both the worst and the most evil president in American history. Comparisons are made to Hitler (death toll: around 20 million), Stalin (death toll: somewhere between 40 and 60 million), and Chairman Mao (death toll: somewhere between 45 and 75 million). When the president passed the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), an act which tried to ensure that every American had healthcare coverage and which also attempted to reduce healthcare costs, it was compared to slavery, the Holocaust, and war. Recently when Obama negotiated a deal with Iran in order to guarantee that Iran would slow down its nuclear weapons program, it was compared to the Holocaust. With nothing but inflammatory right-wing rhetoric gleaned from the numerous conspiracy theory/propaganda websites which proliferate the internet, Obama is painted as Satan himself, a malevolent force intent on destroying America, and freedom, forever. If this were merely a bunch of troglodyte cranks frantically typing their hate induced paranoia onto various web-sites the problem would be a small, if troubling, one. The bigger problem is that mainstream Republican politicians are endorsing these very fantasies and relentlessly playing into many voters’ paranoid fears in order to secure a vote. Many Republicans seem afraid to attack the extremist rhetoric for fear of being seen as soft, while others actively use the same rhetoric and appear to believe it. Obama has been accused of setting up death panels by mainstream politicians and continues to have his American citizenship questioned. By refusing to denounce extremism and conspiracy, the Republicans have allowed this toxic worldview to become part of everyday American political culture, as well as dominate Republican policy. In 2015, the Republican Party, by far the most powerful and most extreme right-wing party that wields real power in any democracy, are simply not extreme enough for many Americans. By fostering a fanatical and portentous approach to everyday politics the Republicans have succeeded in creating a large number of voters whose needs simply cannot be met by any reasonable democratic system, never mind the Republican Party.

As the Tea Party became more powerful in Republican circles, the GOP was plunged into a crisis. While inflammatory rhetoric fires up the right-wing, extremist language has no chance of enticing disenchanted Democrats. With no swing vote, the Republicans could not hope to secure the presidency. In the last two presidential elections the Republicans picked moderate (by Republican standards) candidates in an attempt to soothe the fears of those Americans who were alarmed by Tea Party grandiloquence. On both occasions the Republicans were defeated, and by Obama no less. This led many Republicans to believe that what was needed was a true Tea Party/libertarian candidate who could really fire up the electorate. Any future candidates who look weak on Tea Party talking points are dismissed as ‘establishment Republicans’ or RINO (Republican in Name Only). Even though it may look like the Tea Party’s moment has come and gone, in reality their philosophies have penetrated so deeply into Republican policy that it is only the name Tea Party that has become irrelevant. Uncomfortable with the idea of being part of the GOP establishment, and with the label Tea Party already feeling anachronistic, many right-wingers have instead embraced the moniker “libertarian” in an effort to distance themselves from rank-and-file Republicans. As the name Tea Party became unfashionable, the label of libertarian truly came into its own.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The History and Beliefs of American Populist Libertarianism (Part 1)

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

... both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist New World Order, managed by a 'one-world socialist government'."

Robert W. Welch, Jr., founder of the John Birch Society

The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Illuminati, or The Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Grey Alien Theory. The truth is far more frightening. Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.

Alan Moore

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare

W. B. Yeats

Since the 1990s, more and more Americans have taken to calling themselves libertarian. As a movement it had been growing steadily for most of the 20th Century; indeed it could be argued that it has always been an integral aspect of American politics but, until the arrival of the internet, it could never have been called a populist movement. Various right-wing intellectuals had grappled with libertarian ideas through the years, but the Republican Party as a whole still thought of itself as representing the silent majority who looked on in horror during the 1960s as the young behaved in ways that were scarcely believable to those born of a previous age. Devotion to the flag, to the church, and demands for modesty and restraint hardly screamed libertarian, yet it was from this uptight womb that American Populist Libertarianism was born.

When rock and roll first appeared in the 1950s, American conservatives were apoplectic. Young people were dressing in strange ways, being more open about their sexuality, and listening to music which was, at the very least, influenced by black artists. Despite their claims of wishing to increase the scope of individual freedoms, the right-wing in the 1950s wanted to do nothing of the sort. This social conservatism demanded respect for authority and enforced strict moral codes that frowned upon expanded social freedoms for anybody who was not a straight white male. The freedoms sought by conservatives in the 1950s were strictly business-related, i.e. less taxes, less regulations, and less government interference in the market. When it came to increased individual freedoms, however, conservatives were practically the opposite of libertarian.

From this mindset emerged the John Birch Society, a social conservative movement that thrived on conspiracy and anti-communist activism. They also promoted homeschooling and Christian family values while opposing feminism, civil rights, and just about anything which deviated from the white, male-dominated status quo. Along with Robert W. Welch, Jr, one of the founding members of the John Birch Society was Fred C. Koch, also founder of Koch Industries and father to Charles and David Koch, the two billionaires who helped bankroll the recent Tea Party movement (more on that later). At the time the John Birch Society was viewed as a joke by the majority of people, with conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr. publicly criticising them on a number of occasions. It is ironic that Buckley’s attempt to marry social conservatism with free-market capitalism actually helped pave the way for a reemergence of the John Birch Society’s paranoid, conspiracy-laden philosophy in the 1990s. In the 1960s, however, social conservatism and unquestioning devotion to authority became the most public aspects of the Republican Party.

During the 1970s, a battle for the soul of the Republican Party was raging. On one side were the old Republican liberals who dominated the party leadership but failed to appeal to voters. These Republicans were social conservatives who took a more pragmatic approach to the economy. On the other side were the new Republicans who preached individualism, Christian morals, respect for authority, low taxes, and laissez-faire capitalism. These contradictory elements appealed to many US voters who wished for nothing more than a return to the good old days of pre-1960s America. The hero of this new Republicanism was Ronald Reagan, the closest thing the Republican Party has to a saint.

Even though Reagan preached small-government, he actually increased the national debt from $907 billion to $2.6 trillion, as well as increasing the size of the federal workforce by 324,000 to reach a total of 5.3 million (in case you’re wondering, military personnel only accounted for 26% of that increase). In truth, the Reagan revolution was a triumph of rhetoric over reality. In his time as governor of California, Reagan (who remains the only divorced US President) signed bills which, amongst other things, made abortion easier and which stopped California residents from carrying loaded firearms, both of which would be considered political suicide in the Republican Party of the 21st century. Reagan’s War on Drugs led to the creation of a more militarised police force, which in turn led to a huge increase in US citizens under correctional control. In 1980 the total number of American people in jail, prison, or on parole was 1,840,400. By 1989 that number was a staggering 4,055,600. Didn’t Reagan cut taxes? He did, but he also raised them. In 1980 the total tax revenue of the US government was $517.1 billion. In 1989 it was $991.1 billion. Now let’s compare that to government expenditure. In 1980, government spending was $590.9 billion, meaning there was a deficit of $73.8 billion. In 1989 government spending was $1.1437 trillion, meaning there was a deficit of $152.6 billion. In every category, Reagan fails to meet the most basic standards of 21st century Republicanism (Clinton was a more successful president from a conservative perspective), yet he is consistently held up as the patron saint of modern conservatism and as some kind of tearful patriarch turning in his grave as his beautiful vision is debased. Why is this the case? Reagan’s sublime status is the result of the most important element of modern conservatism: complete estrangement from, and denial of, facts.

The triumph of the Reagan years was not related in any way to Reagan’s actions (other than perhaps the fall of communist Russia, a feat for which Reagan can barely take any actual credit) but rather what he seemed to represent. Reagan managed to convince America that there was nothing contradictory about being a Christian and an unabashed capitalist. Even though America was founded on these contradictory elements, it was only under Reagan that the two were intertwined so powerfully. How did a religion whose holy book contained such statements as “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God” and “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" manage to demonise the poor and celebrate wealth?

According to Max Weber, the various Protestant sects which dominated colonial America had rejected the Catholic idea of entering into heaven through pious words and deeds. To the Protestants, everything was preordained from birth so going to a priest to ask forgiveness was worthless. You were either destined for heaven from day one or you were destined for hell. In an instant the great power of Rome was undone, but it was replaced by a spiritual insecurity on the part of the Protestants, who wondered whether their place in heaven was assured. Instead of going to a priest for guarantees, the Protestants instead looked for signs that God favoured them. One of the main signs was personal prosperity. Wealth began to indicate that you were one of God’s chosen people, but ostentatiousness was frowned upon. Any colonial Protestants who grew wealthy made sure that they did so in an unassuming manner, lest they be frowned upon by the community.

Victory in the American Revolutionary War led many Americans to believe that they were truly God’s chosen people. Despite the continuance of slavery and the genocidal fury unleashed on Native Americans, Protestant America felt very pleased with itself, imagining that only in America could people truly be free (by people they of course meant prosperous white males). If the Protestant white male in America avoided indiscreet displays of wealth, he didn’t avoid indiscreet displays of power. So emerged the image of the proudly humble, entitled, white American male, pious to a fault but ever ready to brutalise and belittle those whom he felt beneath him. In a sense, nothing much has changed since those times, other than some additional rights for those who have traditionally been denied any, and therein lies the new insecurity that haunts the white American male. The traditional ruler of America feels his power threatened, and when that happens it always means trouble for those who are the cause of the insecurity.

The Reagan years marked the first steps towards populist libertarianism. The extreme forces on the far right of the Republican Party scored major victories both ideologically and with the public, as Reagan convinced voters that Christian fundamentalism and laissez-faire capitalism were the perfect match. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Reagan managed to represent the humble Christian who believed, as the founding fathers did, that government should be limited. Yet the larger change was the full-on embrace of materialist individualism. In America, Christianity finally outed itself as the religion of the wealthy. The Protestant belief that wealth was a sign of God’s favour went into overdrive, and the 1980s became a decade forever connected to unbounded wealth and excess. America threw off the shackles of Protestant reserve and in doing so believed it was returning to the values that America was founded on. It was correct in many ways, but the severing of association with Protestant moderation effectively destroyed the right-wing intellectual tradition in America. Debate about the individual, civic duty, commerce, and religion were swept aside as Republicans put forth the idea that the Republican Party represented the true America, the one that was being eroded by liberal values. In truth it was the individualistic materialism of the Republican Party and capitalism which was destroying the moral underpinnings of white Protestant America. Yet even as it came undone, Protestant America desperately clung to the symbols of Christianity in the hopes of that it would cover up the moral black hole that was opening up.

If Reagan welded capitalism and Christianity together, it was communism which first brought them closer. As the Cold War began to dominate post-WWII politics in America and Europe, America sought to distance itself from godless communism by reaffirming its religious foundations and, as such, God started to emerge as a symbol of capitalism and individuality. It was in 1954 that the words “under God” were first added to the Pledge of Allegiance, in 1956 that “In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of America, and in 1957 that those same words appeared for the first time on paper money. Communism made America more religious and, in doing so, it prepared the ground for Reagan and the unholy marriage of capitalism and Christianity. The dreaded House of Un-American Activities, and later Joseph McCarthy, rose to fame during this time, going after some of the most famous names in the arts and sciences such as Thomas Mann, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Langston Hughes, Nelson Algren, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, and Dorothy Parker. Free-thinking artists were viewed as elitist snobs who had been duped by communism, while universities were seen as communist breeding grounds with hapless students unable to resist the charms of their red professors. The Red Scare left an indelible mark on the psyche of white America, creating a twisted individualism which was anti-intellectual, religious, patriotic, and paranoid. These characteristics would shape the mindset of populist libertarians, creating a rigid, suspicious personality that fed on end-times scenarios and the inherent nobility of the average Joe; the white, American, Christian male.

After Reagan’s presidency, Bush Sr. and Clinton were cautiously conservative by comparison. Indeed, by Republican standards, Bill Clinton’s achievements dwarfed those of Reagan by quite some margin. Yet Clinton was hated by Republicans and in 1998 he became only the second president in the history of America to be impeached. The anger generated against Clinton represented something beyond mere difference of opinion in a political sense. Despite his ability to balance the budget and bring economic growth, a feeling began to emerge among many Republicans that Clinton was truly immoral and as such he had to be brought down by any means necessary. As a political tactic it moved from merely attacking a person’s political beliefs to instead insinuating something truly hostile at the heart of America. The tactic ultimately failed, but as the internet began to take off in a big way it set the tone for future Republican attacks on Barack Obama. Internet chat pages allowed isolated individuals to interact with those of a similar mindset and helped facilitate the return of John Birch-inspired paranoia. Websites dedicated to conspiracy theories multiplied at an alarming rate, but the true beginning of modern conspiracy theory was the 9/11 attack, an event which coincided with the presidency of George W. Bush.

Why Isn't Black Lives Matter Considered A Hate Group?

Why isn't Black Lives Matter considered a hate group? This question is, right now, being asked by various Americans as they struggle to comprehend the motives of the group. To answer the question properly, we need to define exactly what a hate group is. According to Wikipedia, a hate group is:

"an organized group or movement that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society."

With that in mind, I present to you a non-comprehensive list of violent attacks carried out by people in the name of a particular belief or beliefs. Once you have read the list, you may judge for yourself whether the term hate group is appropriate.


July 29 1994: Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett are shot dead by Christian anti-abortion terrorist Paul Jennings Hill.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

December 30 1994: Christian terrorist John Salvi murders two (receptionists Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney),  and wounds five when attacking two Planned Parenthood clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

April 19 1995: Timothy McVeigh kills 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh was a libertarian, anti-government, pro-gun activist.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

July 27 1996: Christian terrorist Eric Rudolph (who also fought against the "homosexual agenda") explodes a bomb at Centennial Olympic Park, killing 1 and injuring 111 others.

Rudolph also bombed a gay bar in Atlanta, an abortion clinic in Atlanta, and bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama that resulted in the death of Robert Sanderson, a police officer. Emily Lyons, a nurse who worked there, lost an eye in the explosion.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

October 23 1998: Christian terrorist James Charles Kopp murders abortion doctor Barnett Slepian.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

July 27 2008: Two are killed and seven are injured when anti-liberal, anti-Democrat, anti-abortion, and anti-gay activist Jim David Adkisson starts shooting randomly at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

May 31 2009: Christian terrorist Scott Roeder shoots abortion doctor George Tiller dead. Tiller had previously survived an attack after being shot 5 times by Christian terrorist Shelly Shannon. Bill O'Reilly constantly referred to Tiller as "Tiller the baby killer", even after the first assassination attempt.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

January 8 2011: Anti-semite Jared Lee Loughner kills six and wounds Democratic US Representative (and Jew) Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Previous to the attack, Gifford's name had appeared in a rifle sight under a list of Democrats that Sarah Palin thought should lose their seat. Palin used language such as "Don't retreat, reload" and other gun imagery in her campaign.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

August 5 2012: Right wing white supremacist Wade Michael Page kills six in an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Page mistakenly thought they were Muslims.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

June 8 2014: Two police officers (Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck) and one civilian (Joseph Wilcox) are killed in Las Vegas by libertarian anti-government activists Jerad and Amanda Miller. The Gadsden Flag, the flag of the libertarian movement, was found placed on the bodies of the police officers.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.

June 17 2015: White supremacist Dylan Roof kills nine at a church in South Carolina. His victims were all black and included Democratic state senator Clementa C. Pinckney. Roof chose the church for its historic connection to Civil Rights. Roof was a supporter of the Confederate Flag and wanted to start a race war in America. Roof was also a frequent visitor to the Council of Conservative Citizens website, a right-wing, white supremacist group.

Neither Christians, Republicans, libertarians, nor Fox News as groups/organisations were held to be responsible or connected in any way.


Not a single killing of a police officer, or indeed the killing of anybody at all, can be tied to the group Black Lives Matter. As of right now they have been blamed for an increase in violence against the police, even though there has been no increase, and several right wing outlets, including Fox News, have openly indicated that they should be considered a hate group. Since there is zero evidence to make such a claim, then it seems only proper that Fox News, Christians, Republicans, libertarians, and Confederate Flag supporters should be considered hate groups, given the amount of blood they have on their hands.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Labour's Love Lost - The Victory Celebration That Turned Into A Wake

Winners aren’t supposed to be this bitter. When the No vote triumphed in the recent referendum regarding Scottish independence, it looked like a vindication for the Scottish Labour Party. As the dust began to settle, however, Labour was suddenly faced with the realisation that 1.6 million people had voted for independence, and many of those people had been die-hard Labour voters just a few weeks before the 18th of September. Worse still, instead of treating the referendum like a cup final, many Yes voters decided that their conversion to a supporter of an independent Scotland was not a passing thing but was now somewhat of an entrenched belief. It turns out that many Labour voters felt a wave of disenchantment at the idea of Labour holding hands with the Conservative Party to protect the Union. Suddenly the policies of the two major British political parties seemed almost interchangeable, give or take some window-dressing. Instead of settling the independence question, it now looked like the referendum had actually created a greater drive for independence. How has Labour dealt with these recalcitrant voters who, contrary to New Labour procedure, refuse to drop their beliefs when faced with a defeat at the ballot box? The answer, as numerous clickbaits promise, may surprise you.

The cheers and laughter that erupted from the mouths of Labour-supporting No voters when the results were announced were gradually replaced by a conceited, bragging defiance that took to taunting Yes voters, reminding them that they had lost. Instead of reaching out and trying to understand why lifelong Labour voters had decided to ignore the party line and vote Yes, the twitter feeds of Labour/No supporters filled up with “We won”, “You lost”, and “zoomers”. Grown men took to reposting the poetry of idealistic young Yes voters in order to snigger and guffaw, and the worst outbursts from Yes voters were passed around as if to signify a moral superiority on the part of No supporters. All the while, however, an emptiness was lurking behind every guffaw as many began to point to a very disturbing truth for Labour: as SNP and Scottish Green membership flourished, Labour’s prospects in the next General Election began to look very grim. Labour’s response? Fingers very firmly in ears and a cry of “Zoomers”. The independence campaign was even referred to as a zombie movement in an article on a Labour website. Labour seems unwilling to understand Yes voters, preferring instead to insult and laugh. As a vote-winning tactic, it seems short-sighted to say the least. When 1.6 million people vote Yes, it stands to reason that Labour will need many of these same people to vote for them in the 2015 General Election if they are to triumph.

Labour’s problem is that, ultimately, it has nothing to brag about. Instead of holding firm to core beliefs, Labour policies in Scotland, and in the UK as a whole, have drifted further and further to the right. The party is incapable of showing itself to be the moral opponent of the Conservative Party precisely because, politically, it is merely the liberal wing of the Conservative Party. Outside of proclaiming “We’re not quite as bad as the Tories”, it’s hard to gauge exactly what the Labour Party stands for, with leader Ed Miliband even engaging in some UKIP-esque rhetoric in a desperate attempt to not appear soft on immigration. Labour ends up wherever the political winds blow, and as such it makes it difficult to discern exactly what the party will do that differs from the Conservatives. The SNP and Yes voters make for a more convenient target in Scotland merely because Labour really are a Unionist party, so their opposition is sincere. When it comes to the Tories, their opposition is only based on a power struggle: Labour would prefer to be in charge as it indicates a superficial level of success for them as a political party. After 18 years out of office, Tony Blair transformed Labour from the eternal party of opposition to the party of government by abandoning everything they stood for, but his Faustian pact with the British right-wing media meant Labour could never again return to their core values and as such they have creeped further to the right ever since. True believers have held on in England merely because the Conservative Party have consistently managed to be more repellant. In Scotland, however, the Conservative Party has been reduced to a whisper, so Labour must demonise the independence voter, failing to recognise that these very people were once proud Labour supporters. Unable to demonise the Tories, and with no core beliefs to point to, Labour have painted themselves into a corner by pointing at Yes voters and saying “Look at those zoomers”. No wonder many Labour supporters are panicking.

Scottish Labour should be riding the crest of a wave right now but, like all of their recent triumphs, their victory has come at a price, the price being their Scottish identity and their Scottish voter base. At the Labour banquet, the spirit of independence lingers like Banquo’s ghost, producing either angry bursts of “You lost” or mocking laughter. Scottish Labour may have won the referendum thanks to the three witches (Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg), but their identity crisis has deepened. Desperately trying to paint themselves as the sensible middle ground and the SNP and independence supporters as half-mad extremists, Labour have nothing to offer but contrast in place of substance. The General Election of 2015 has suddenly taken on seismic proportions, with a Conservative victory possibly destroying the fragile Union between Scotland and England, and the union between the UK and Continental Europe. If Labour loses the General Election in the UK their failure will be complete, leaving them with no choice but to move to the right once again. If Labour loses a substantial number of seats in Scotland, Scottish politics will be irrevocably changed, with only parties that advocate for independence providing any hope of escape from Britain’s right-wing political creep. In this atmosphere, Scottish independence will look even more like a solution to British political chicanery, as opposed to the nationalist extremism which Labour continually tries to paint it as. Labour’s failure to hold its ground in the face of the Conservative’s (and now the UKIP’s) populist right-wing appeals will have devastating effects for the UK in general, and Labour’s Scottish demise will force them to court voters in England’s Conservative heartland to make up the numbers for lost Scottish Labour voters. As victories go, Pyrrhic doesn’t even sum it up. The centre cannot hold, and Labour’s loss will be the SNP’s gain, leaving the rest of the UK looking like a neo-con’s idea of paradise. “We won” is sounding more and more empty as each day goes by.


Just as the finishing touches were being put to this essay, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont stepped down, a move that took almost nobody by surprise, making it seem like Lamont was the last to know about her upcoming resignation. Lamont left with a parting shot at Labour’s London power-base with the implication being that London would be dictating the actions of the Scottish Labour Party. Opinion polls of late have shown that Labour’s strong lead in the UK has whittled away, sending a shiver through the opposition benches that has failed to find a spine to run up. Miliband appears to have wet his finger and stuck it into the air to see which way the vote-wind blows and as such has pulled rank on Scottish Labour in an effort to ensure a General Election victory in 2015. Time will tell if this is a wise move but all of the signs appear to be pointing to a disaster for Labour in Scotland in 2015.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Life After No - Removing Negativity And Staying Self-Critical In Post-Referendum Scotland

As the referendum results from Scotland’s thirty two council areas began to trickle out in the early hours of Friday the 19th of September it soon became clear that a Yes vote was not on the cards. Other than the large victory for Yes in Dundee, it was a rather depressing night for Yes supporters and, by the time Glasgow announced its support for Yes, it was apparent that even this victory would not be enough. Scotland had voted No to independence. Among many Yes supporters the first reaction was anger and/or despair which was an understandable reaction given the soaring optimism and idealism of the many people who supported Yes. As the days pass, though, the anger must subside and be replaced by a sense of political purpose as many wonder what the next wave of Scottish politics will look like. In light of some of the reactions that have been witnessed, it will be be necessary to remove a few things from the table. Let’s start with the most obvious: respect the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland and accept the result.

Scotland voted No to independence. This fact is perhaps a difficult one for many to accept but it is a fact nonetheless. The next stage is perhaps more important and one that many will have even more difficulty doing. That next stage is giving up on the idea of another referendum any time soon. There will not be another referendum in a year, or two years, or five years. There will not. Will there be one at some distant point in the future? Perhaps, but at this stage we need to show that we respect the democratic process when we lose, otherwise any future victories will lack validity. The point of democracy is that those who win should have a chance to see what their choices look like. Those who voted No did so for a multitude of reasons and it is important that we honour their choices. Many people in Scotland felt exhausted as the referendum approached due to arguing with friends and family for months. To ask them to do so again in two years would be a betrayal. If Labour and/or the Conservatives fail to keep the promises they made, then by all means engage with other Scottish voters but avoid any “I told you so” utterances. A democratic decision is one made by all of us.

A (disputed) poll came out after the referendum which suggested that the largest and most important grouping of No voters were aged 65 and over. Putting aside any arguments regarding the validity of the poll, the reactions to this information was at times a little disturbing. Everybody who supported independence knew that there were risks involved. To turn around angrily and denounce those who feared what the last years of their lives would look like in Scotland was irresponsible and downright shameful. While many Scots probably voted to stay in the Union simply because that is what they preferred, it is not unreasonable to think that many people were scared. The moment any movement points an accusing finger at the elderly simply for making a democratic choice to stay with the status quo is the moment when anger and confusion have drastically clouded judgement. Leave the elderly of Scotland alone.

Now comes the most difficult issue: the notion of the 45. This number was chosen because 45% of the people who cast a vote in the referendum voted for independence, and because of the historical connotations of the forty-five, the name for the Jacobite uprising of 1745. First off, the Jacobites and the Stuarts supported everything the independence movement is against . It was a Stuart monarch who initiated the Union of the Crowns, a Stuart monarch who began the suppression of Gaelic, and a Stuart monarch who oversaw the Act of Union. The Jacobites fought to reinstate the Stuart line and put on the throne a despotic monarch who merely had a historical connection with Scotland (Jacobitism was also popular in Catholic Ireland, even though it was a Stuart monarch who began the plantation of Ulster). The Stuarts, from James VI onwards, had no great love of Scotland and moved their power base to London at the first opportunity. Had the forty-five been successful, the Stuarts would have undoubtedly broken their promises to Scotland, and London would have been their power base once again. When the Act of Union occurred, there were riots on the streets of Scotland but, when it came to the Jacobite uprisings, many Scots supported the Union and the imported Hanoverian line merely due to their dislike of the Stuart line, while the British government used the uprisings as an excuse to brutalise and anglicise large parts of Scotland. The Jacobites managed to utilise a lot of anti-Unionist sentiment, despite the actions of the Stuarts being essential to the Union’s existence and, in doing so, tarnished and destroyed any hopes of a popular anti-Unionist political movement. The Jacobite uprisings were a monarchical power struggle disguised (and still at times portrayed) as a last bid for national autonomy and as such any connections with them should be avoided.

The other problem with the 45 is its exclusivity. In the immediate aftermath of the result, proclaiming yourself to be a Yes supporter felt like a point of pride in the face of defeat. Yet for this proclamation to coalesce into a solid political movement is to invite future defeats. If a future referendum happens, then more people need to vote Yes. Nobody wants to join an old club where the members have war wounds and medals on display. It surely does not need pointing out that a political movement with independence as one of its main goals must have an open door policy where past actions will not be seen as wrong. Yes supporters should feel proud of their actions, but finger-pointing and demonising will accomplish nothing other than running the risk of making the next referendum result look like the ‘15 instead of the ‘45.

One of the most self-defeating trends which has emerged in post-referendum Scotland is the paranoid attitude towards the BBC and the media in general. A free press means that the press are free to print whatever they want, even if it favours the status quo. Once we get into the mindset that a pro-independence article or report is fair-minded and a critical one is biased we lose perspective. A lot of people became Yes supporters during the referendum campaign, so Yes supporters were involved in an uphill struggle from day one. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to imagine that the majority who voted against independence were in fact merely being represented by well-established media outlets who had a vested interest in remaining in the Union. Is that biased? Perhaps. Is it legal? Absolutely. Yes supporters need to avoid sinking into a conspiracy mindset that demands a progressive version of Fox News for Scotland. The problem with Fox News isn’t that it is Republican. The problem is that it tells its viewers over and over again that their network is the only fair and balanced one and, in doing so, allows their viewers to dismiss all other viewpoints that challenge their own. Yes supporters must remain open-minded and self-critical if they hope to increase their numbers.

As well as hostility to the press, Yes supporters need to stop all talk of boycotting businesses who supported the No campaign. Nobody should be punished for supporting a legal democratic option. A small but loud minority of Yes supporters are using words like traitor and talking of boycotts and revenge, and it is rather frightening. Other Yes supporters need to challenge and shut-down this kind of talk. The best aspect of the Yes campaign was its idealistic zeal and progressive attitude. The voices which exude paranoia and anger must not in any way come to represent the Yes campaign (even if they are Jim Sillars) or the whole movement will descend into the ugly nationalism that Yes was never about in the first place.

Yes supporters also need to stop referring to No voters as mugs who were duped. It creates an unrealistic perspective of absolute clarity when it comes to the referendum. Nobody knows what a Yes Scotland would truly have looked like and you can bet there would have been many setbacks and bumps in the road. Ultimately there was an element of risk involved, and many people simply did not want to take that risk. That was a democratic option. Let’s weed out the paranoia, the exclusivity, the anger at the result, the media conspiracy theories (and let’s not even get started on the ridiculous voter fraud claims), the finger-pointing, and the name-calling. For a comfortable victory in the future, Yes would need a 10% swing. None of the behaviours described above will help bring about that swing. In fact they will alienate many people. Oh and, for God’s sake, leave J.K. Rowling alone. So, what exactly can Yes supporters do?

To start with, instead of wondering what the other side did to win, we should ask ourselves what Yes did to lose. How exactly could Yes have convinced that extra 10% of voters to claim a unanimous victory? The one issue which I think left Yes supporters most open to attack and which produced the most anxiety in undecided voters was the issue of the Scottish currency. To put it bluntly, Alex Salmond made a huge blunder by refusing point-blank to discuss a plan B for Scotland’s currency. Many Yes supporters, myself included, went to great lengths to emphasise that the referendum was not about Alex Salmond and the SNP. This remains true to this day, yet it was Alex Salmond and the SNP who were seen as the voice of the Yes movement and, as such, Salmond’s steadfast refusal to engage with voters in regards to Scottish currency proved disastrous. When every party leader of every major British political party tells you that there will not be a currency union, turning around and saying “Yes there will” does not look like a vote winner. With currency uncertain, Scottish voters were being asked to take a gamble. It is no longer "our" pound if we leave the UK and it is a mistake to make demands of the very entity you wish to break away from, especially if those demands lessen the very notion of independence. Never mind a Plan B, there should have been a Plan C and a Plan D. Yes supporters were left giving impromptu answers to interested parties when asked about Scottish currency, knowing full well that these were answers not given by the main proponent of independence. Even if there had been a currency union, surely it would not have been permanent. An independent country needs a sovereign currency. Yet Salmond and the SNP continually stated that there would be a currency union. End of story. The hammering that Salmond took over this was entirely appropriate. For a man who seems to have spent his entire life preparing for a referendum, Salmond looked woefully unprepared. The idea that a team of economists could have engaged fully with Scottish voters telling them exactly what their options were does not seem to have occurred to Salmond. To say that the currency issue lost the referendum for Yes might be an overstatement, but a clearer economic policy instead of one which was deemed null and void by British political parties (and which compromised Scotland’s independence) would have at least made the numbers closer to 50-50.

The issue of unpreparedness also loomed large during the campaign. It felt like the SNP thought that their majority in Holyrood might not come again so the referendum took on a ‘now or never’ feel. Looked at from this perspective, the referendum itself felt like it came too early. Granted, it was perhaps the referendum itself that forced people to solidify their positions in regards to an independent Scotland, yet there is no escaping the feeling that not enough work was done by the SNP to prepare Scottish voters for the consequences of the referendum. It was only in the final few weeks of the campaign that things took a more serious turn, as Yes supporters felt for the first time that the vote might go their way. The most positive aspect of the referendum was that it politicised thousands of Scottish voters who had hitherto felt disempowered by the British political system. The tragedy is it took the referendum to do it, and when the No vote happened many were left wondering what to do next. It was the referendum, not the SNP, which empowered people.

The thousands of people now joining the SNP need to demand more currency options from their leadership, as well as making sure that the SNP challenges the most destructive independence supporters who seem to want independence for its own sake without thinking through the consequences. The idea that independence would get rid of the Tories for good is a dangerous one, considering that the Conservatives are not unique to England and that an independent Scotland could easily see a resurgence of Conservatism. I fear that the multitude of voices which emerged during the referendum campaign will be tamed and muted by any political parties they choose to join in the name of the greater good, that greater good being independence. Questions need to be asked not only about currency, but about whether independent Scotland would try to create a corporate tax haven, thereby undermining the idea of a progressive, caring Scotland which cares for its citizens first.

The explosion of voices which occurred as a result of the referendum was truly inspiring. The fact that many of us backed Yes without knowing exactly what an independent Scotland would look like was more an act of trust in the Scottish people than Alex Salmond. For those of us who were troubled by some unanswered questions, now is the time to have them answered properly. If a referendum happens at some future date, then Yes supporters can hopefully be ready with more definitive answers. The people of Scotland voted No to independence and as much as many of us would like to point to media bias or declare the Scottish populace mugs, the honest thing to do would be to look to see how the Yes campaign could have won in identical circumstances. There were a lot of uncertainties about independent Scotland and as such we must admit that many people voted No for legitimate reasons. Our job now is to be self-critical and in doing so we can find the weakest aspects of the Yes campaign, thereby making sure that they will be eradicated. Pointing the finger elsewhere is the worst way to improve. It will be a long time till there’s another referendum. Let’s all make sure we are truly ready.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Final Thoughts on the Scottish Independence Referendum

Soon enough the most important vote in the history of the United Kingdom will have taken place. As a Yes supporter I would like to make myself clear on a few subjects. Many people I know and love will be voting No and my feelings for them will be unaffected. I do not consider No voters to be less Scottish, or to be traitors, or to be anything other than concerned for the future of Scotland. I may disagree with No voters, in fact I may profoundly disagree on various points, but as a believer in an open society, which protects and encourages vigorous debate and free speech, I cherish a nation which allows for all tolerant opinions (as such I found Jim Sillars' 'day of reckoning' comments to be shameful). As many have been at pains to point out, the Scottish Referendum has not only transformed Scottish politics but British politics as a whole in the sense that, for a very small period of time, London has not been the centre of gravity for the United Kingdom. This has been good for everybody in the UK, though I fear that many career politicians in Westminster see this as a crises to get through rather than a long term issue that requires a complete rethink in terms of UK politics.

Much has been made, especially among No voters, of the referendum tearing Scotland apart. That's not how I see the emergence of political debate that has only occasionally reached the level of egg-throwing and street arguing. Ultimately, a country where residents disagree politically is the essence of democracy. If Scotland votes Yes, then we need the No voters to be skeptical and loud, to ensure that hope and optimism don't allow the populace to be blindsided by bad decision making. If Scotland votes No then Yes voters can rightfully expect more powers for the Scottish Parliament, while also serving as a restless watchdog of Westminster as it continues to have a say in Scottish political decisions. The fact that things seem so finely balanced is merely a testament to the two options of the referendum. If Scotland votes Yes it will again become a country with a multitude of political opinions, including Scottish Conservatives. In fact an independent Scotland is the only place where Conservatism is likely to thrive north of the border. In an independent Scotland the SNP will no longer exist as an independent country does not need a nationalist party. I expect most SNP members to jump ship to other parties and for the SNP to change its name and reemerge as a left-of-centre Scottish political party that will try to challenge the new Scottish Labour Party for left leaning voters. If Scotland votes No the Conservatives will continue to struggle, Labour will go into free-fall, and the SNP will remain an active voice as many Scottish voters (even No voters) struggle to find a mainstream party that best matches their politics. 

It remains a kind of political miracle that the referendum polls are so close. Two years ago the No vote seemed unassailable. Given that every major British political party, every major British newspaper, every major bank, and every major corporation supports the No campaign, it is a testament to both the Yes campaign's organising and the sheer disaffection with Westminster among Scottish voters that Yes seems within a whisker of succeeding. Just how out of touch with Scottish political culture is the entrenched British establishment? The sense of panic coming from the elite when one poll put the Yes vote ahead was astonishing. Even though 30% of the Scottish electorate when polled have regularly indicated that they would like an end to the Union, this was apparently nothing to worry about. Bear in mind that the Conservative Party has not achieved 30% of the Scottish vote in over 30 years, yet there's been a Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street overseeing the most important Scottish political decisions for 17 of those years. As the polls crept higher the sense of business-as-usual was overwhelming. What does it tell you about the British ruling class when they only realise two weeks before a vote that something important might be at stake? 

I truly hope for an independent Scotland because I object to a progressive Scotland being dragged down a neo-liberal path by a party who can barely get enough votes to return one Scottish MP to the House of Commons (or by a party who, while still popular in Scotland, have abandoned all their principles to stay relevant in southern England). I think the politics of Westminster has drifted drastically from any sense of a middle-ground and now exists to provide America with a powerful voice in Europe, while still cloaking its beliefs in a Union Jack and a respectful bow to the Queen. I object to Scotland being referred to as a democratic nation when UK General Election results show that it is neither. I have more reasons than this for supporting Yes (which can be found here and here), but at this point I merely wish to express how invigorating the whole referendum campaign has been. True, there are Yes voters who revel in the worst kind of nationalistic rabble-rousing, just as there are No voters whose main motivation has been sectarian hatred and quasi-fascist British pride, yet these have ultimately been the minority. Scottish politics has been transformed and the level of passion and debate on both sides has been inspiring. I feel that the political culture of the UK will never be the same again, no matter which way Scotland votes. Things are too close and people are too involved to simply fade away into the background on the 19th. Scotland has re-awoken and as such the referendum can only be viewed as a success. Let us hope that it is the beginning of a sense of political involvement for all people living in the British Isles. I've never been prouder to be Scottish.